Free Speech? Not in the United Kingdom

Norwich City Hall

Norwich City Hall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We, as Americans, are very lucky, not least because our founders in breaking away from Great Britain had a chance to perfect some of the details in our joint tradition. Our Constitution, for example, with its Bill of Rights. While we have to keep a very close eye indeed on our government to keep them from rendering our rights completely null, we do have a supreme law that is very difficult to rescind.

The British on the other hand, have from time to time had their rights codified, the one we mostly borrowed from was the Bill of Rights of 1689 but, we made some changes. Here we are speaking of freedom of speech and freedom of religion. As near as I could find in a quick survey, England has never codified free speech outside of Parliament, and freedom of religion was (and to a point still is) quite restricted till the nineteenth century. Here this is our operative text, as we all know

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

That’s us, and we still have trouble keeping the government in check. So you can imagine how it can get in England, or can you? Frankly I read this story in disbelief. And that’s also why this article is published here and not the UK. There is no point in getting anyone else in trouble.

From The Spectator

You’re at home, enjoying a summery Saturday afternoon with the bees and nasturtiums on the patio, when the doorbell intrudes. You’re greeted by an impeccably courteous, fresh-faced police officer from the Norfolk Constabulary – ‘Dedicated to this neighbourhood’, according to their website – and he’s come to speak to you because there’s been a complaint.

Not, you understand, about the troubling number of burglaries, rising car thefts, incidences of property vandalism or madhouse music accompanying balmy barbeques. No, someone has reported you for sending them two gospel tracts by email, one entitled ‘Christ Can Cure – Good News for Gays’; and the other ‘Jesus Christ – the Saviour we all need’. Some people might have simply deleted them both and directed all further correspondence from you to ‘spam’, but these people got offended. Very offended. The allegation against you is that of ‘homophobic hate’.

The officer politely offers you a choice: you can either admit your guilt there and then, accepting an on-the-spot fine of £90. Or you can contest the allegation, provide a signed statement in your defence, after which it will be for a senior police officer to decide whether or not to refer your case to the Crown Prosecution Service.¹

These are the tracts in question which Rev. Dr. Clifford was kind enough to provide me: CHRIST THE ANSWER and GOOD NEWS FOR GAYS (SSM). While I am not convinced of the efficacy of tracts for evangelization, that is hardly the point. You will note there is nothing in either of these that is not straight from the Bible.

This is Dr. Clifford’s account of the march

NORWICH ‘GAY PRIDE’ DEMO – Christian Gospel Witness

The Norwich ‘gay pride’ demo is now an annual feature of city life, as in many other cities across the UK. Five of us gathered to make a Gospel witness against this unashamed carnival of perverted carnality.

Gentleman’s Walk was teeming with people on this warm afternoon (Saturday, 27 July 2013). Arriving early, I noticed that the Charity Stall from which Norwich City Council ejected Norwich Reformed Church last year was being used by ‘Gay Pride’ personnel. Wandering over, I asked for a copy of their official pamphlet. I then offered my leaflets ‘Good News for Gays’ and ‘Jesus Christ, the Saviour We All Need’. Accepting the ‘exchange’, they seemed a little disconcerted. I smiled and said, “You need them, they will do you good. God bless you.”

When the other brethren arrived, we gathered for prayer, asking the LORD to grant us faithfulness, wisdom, compassion, peace and courage.

Police were evident in considerable numbers. We engaged in discussion with them. It has to said that they were more threatening towards us than the gay marchers were. We were told by one officer that if we caused offence and distress we would be arrested. Will Harrison (church identity withheld) then asked, “Since I find gay demonstrators offensive and distressing, will you arrest them too?” No reply was made. Tony Cox (Surrey Chapel) challenged the strident attitude of this officer with his legal expertise, supported by Len Smeath (Norwich Reformed Church). It seems that the public parade of gay perversion is not considered offensive whereas Christian counter-witness is! Will Harrison was accompanied by his wife Laura and baby Elouise in this stand-off.

Joining in, I said that the marchers had less cause to fear harassment from us than we from them. I asked the officer if he would arrest those who might harass us? Somewhat nervously, he replied that he would. On offering him copies of my leaflets, the officer said I would be arrested if these were distributed. So much for freedom of expression! When I said they were only available for enquirers, the visibly-irritated officer said I would be arrested even if they were displayed. Well, they were displayed – together with another leaflet ‘Gay Pride’ – but none of us were arrested!

As the several-hundred strong procession advanced with drums, whistles and circus-style antics, we informed the officers that we intended to go ahead of the procession at a distance of 30-40 yards, displaying our Gospel texts (see pics). Hundreds of bystanders watched as we advanced along the route – Len to my left, Tony to my right, and Will and his family with me in the centre. With little Elouise in her pushchair, we were making a family-based, biblical demonstration – ‘A little child shall lead them’ (Isa. 11: 6). Several police officers provided a buffer between us and the noisy marchers behind us.

The planned route took us past the market and the City Hall. Shamelessly displaying the City Council’s decadence, a ‘rainbow’ drape stretched along the entire width of the building. On the balcony, the Lord Mayor, resplendent in his ceremonial robes waved to the crowd, supported by other members of the Council. It was a truly shameful display of official support. As we passed by beneath, I lifted my arm, and – despite the din – shouted “Shame upon you, shame upon you!”

Eventually, we and the main procession reached the Forum where a large crowd applauded them. The police kept between us and the marchers while the noisy celebration reached its climax. Providing evidence of today’s religious apostasy, Quakers and Unitarians were conspicuous among the marchers. An Anglican-looking clergyman (Methodist? Roman Catholic?) was shamefully smiling. At one point, Tony and Len made their way to the end of the procession to display their Bible texts. In response to the Unitarian’s poster ‘Jesus loves you’, Len rightly said , “Yes Jesus loves them, but He hates their sin!” Turning his back, the man was not amused. It was tragic to see little children among the marchers. May the LORD protect them from sodomite wickedness!

In the end, the whole event seemed less aggressive than in previous years. We were able to make a visible witness, and a good quantity of leaflets were taken. Apart from the leading officer, his fellow officers were quite friendly and helpful towards us. If we are spared, another witness will be made next year (DV). In the wake of the Same-sex Marriage developments, only time will tell if our relatively-low key witness will be tolerated in the future. It would be worth it if only one soul was saved. We leave events to God and His sovereign and gracious purposes. May HE have mercy on our city and country.

Dr Alan C. Clifford

Pastor, Norwich Reformed Church ²

And this is his account of the his police interview

POLICE INTERVIEW of

Dr Alan C. Clifford,

Norwich Reformed Church

Interviewing Officer: PC Arnold (PC1396) of Norfolk Constabulary

Location: Dr Clifford’s home address

Date & Time: Saturday 17 August 2013 at 5.45 pm.

I was informed that a complaint had been made to the Police by the ‘chair person’ of Norwich ‘gay pride’ (Norfolk LGBT Project) about an e-mail sent by me on 29 July. This e-mail consisted of a report sent to editors and others of a Christian witness five of us made against the city-centre ‘gay pride’ demo of the previous Saturday, 27 July 2013. (Since their official pamphlet gave a contact e-address, I decided to include them on the larger list of recipients.) The ‘gay pride’ recipient (or another) found the e-mail’s two attached leaflets offensive. These leaflets were ‘Christ Can Cure – Good News for Gays’ and ‘Jesus Christ – the Saviour we all need’.

PC Arnold said that there was reason to believe that I was chargeable with a homophobic incident, having communicated by electronic means something likely to annoy or cause offence. Accordingly, I had two options. I could admit I’d done wrong and pay an ‘on the spot’ fine of £90.00, or produce a signed statement in defence of our actions. I decided on the latter course.

PC Arnold proceeded to ask me a series of questions. Unfortunately, I was not permitted to make a photocopy of the statement I eventually signed (it then would be a document in the criminal investigation), so the following details from memory simply reflect the main points discussed.

Among other things, I was asked why I had sent this e-mail. Was it to annoy or cause offence? I said, “No. I was reporting to the ‘gp’ people our Christian complaint against the public display of their homosexual propaganda, which we find offensive.”

I was asked if I was aware that I’d committed a homophobic offence, as defined by the official police leaflet now presented to me: “Any incident which is perceived to be homophobic by the victim or any other person.”

I rejected the accusation, adding that everything depends on the meaning of ‘homophobia’. Since a ‘phobia’ (from Greek) is ‘a fear’, it does not mean ‘hatred’ in the now commonly-understood use of the term. I certainly fear the influence of homosexuality on society, but this should not be regarded as ‘hatred’ unless criticism is taken to mean ‘hatred’. I reminded the officer that my leaflet was subtitled ‘A Compassionate call to Christian Conversion’. Is that hatred? We don’t hate these people. We love them and want to help them. So, even though the ‘gp’ people are upset, we are guilty of no crime.

I asked the officer that since we are offended by their public display of homosexuality, could we not have made a complaint to the police? He answered that we had such a right to complain.

I then explained that we were perfectly within the law regarding our criticism of homosexuality. Yes, the ‘gp’ people are upset by my leaflets but they contain nothing wrong where the law is concerned. I elucidated this point by quoting as follows:

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), in Handyside v UK (1976), made it clear that freedom of expression embraces not only information and ideas that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive, but also, ‘… those that offend, shock or disturb the state or any sector of the population. Such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no democratic society’.

Lord Justice Sedley, in Redmond Bate v DPP (2000), famously said that, ‘Free speech includes not only the inoffensive, but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and provocative provided that it does not tend to violence. Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having’.

Therefore we are persuaded that we are guilty of no crime.

I was asked if I wished to contact a solicitor. I said, “No, not at the moment.”

PC Arnold then informed me that a senior officer would decide whether the complaint is sent to the Crown Prosecution Service. A decision on this should be made in about a week’s time.

PC Arnold thanked me for my cooperation, and I thanked him for his courtesy, adding that as Christians we only wish to act with integrity in these matters. With a final ‘thank you’, I said, “God bless you.”

Dr Alan C. Clifford ³

Dr. Clifford has informed me that this case has indeed been passed to the Crown Prosecution Service.*

Back to The Spectator

Have we really reached the stage where one may be prosecuted for sending a Papal pastoral letter to Stonewall? If ‘Good News for Gays’ is prohibited by law, then ‘Good News for Muslims’ and ‘Good News for Jews’ must likewise be banned. In fact, Good News for any protected characteristic may be deemed to constitute ‘hate’, so we might as well abandon the pulpits and close all the churches. The gospel may now only be preached safely to white, able-bodied heterosexuals, and you’d better hope that ‘any other person’ doesn’t happen accidentally to overhear.

The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 contains the offence of stirring up hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation. Anyone using threatening words or behaviour, or anyone displaying, publishing or distributing any written material which is threatening, is liable for prosecution. Former Conservative Home Secretary Lord Waddington won an amendment to an earlier version of the law, which established that no one might be prosecuted for stating their belief that homosexuality is sinful or wrong. It read: ‘For the avoidance of doubt, the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred.’

But that protection will be illusory for as long as homophobia is defined and understood by the police as ‘any incident which is perceived to be homophobic by the victim or any other person’.  Against that background, all mission-orientated Christians will need to temper their proselytism – especially on Gay Pride marches.¹

Emphasis mine

This line I find horrendously troubling: ‘any incident which is perceived to be homophobic by the victim or any other person’, In the civilized world, ever since the Roman Empire, we have believed in objective laws, objectively enforced. It was Cicero who said “A government of laws not men”. How is it possible to square that with any incident is perceived to be homophobic by the victim or any other person. How? You can’t, it’s pure and simply an unjust law, not to mention an unenforceable one.

St Augustine said “An unjust law is no law at all.” In his Letter from the Birmingham Jail” the Rev. Dr. Marin Luther King expanded on it, writing

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may want to ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.

I note that the Rev. Dr. Clifford is facing either a hefty fine or a custodial sentence (that means jail time) or both.

And so as we watch we find our British Christian brothers and sisters reduced to second class citizens without the right of free speech.

Over at AoSHQ a commenter coined a new term that I find applicable

The Hardcore Gay Triumphalist Trolls Vengeance Committee

References

¹ The Spectator; 29 August 2013; Adrian Hilton

² NORWICH GAY PRIDE (2013) (1)

³ POLICE INTERVIEW (re gay pride demo)

*Police interview update

Highly recommended

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15 Responses to Free Speech? Not in the United Kingdom

  1. illero says:

    This is both eye-opening and appalling. But it is a great demonstration of the slippery slope that American culture has stepped onto. God help us. On the other hand, the manner in which the “conservatives” referenced in your column are holding their own in both their Christian beliefs and their argumentation is quite uplifting. We need more of this in America — peaceful but assertive argumentation.

    Like

  2. Freedom, by the way says:

    As long as there are groups of people who aim to put conditions on who is entitled to freedom there will forever be a battle defending it.

    This absolutely should be all over the media in the UK. We all have to look in the mirror before we wash off the dirt.

    Like

  3. Jack Curtis says:

    Seems the Brits’ government is paralleling the U.S. attacking Christianity with law; the next step has always been persecution…

    Like

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